Be Aware When Buying Online

Originally Posted October 15, 2015 – Updated December 12, 2020

As Vashonites we rely heavily on buying used goods from others on the Island. Granny’s Attic, Rockit Consignment and the old Luna Bella’s (now Vashon Bella’s) Consignment are always full of great used clothing at affordable prices. However, there’s another threat to those who have had property stolen from them. There have been a number of reported stolen packages, bicycles, and various other thefts discussed on the Vashonites Neighborhood Watch group on Facebook.

Items being sold through social media (such as Facebook), eBay or Craigslist – unlike our trusted consignment shops, these sites don’t usually have safeguards to ensure that what is being sold is legitimately owned by the seller.

There is simply no way of knowing where the product originally came from.

Our trusted shops have stringent rules, if the transaction seems fishy, the vendor will question it and ask the seller for information. Many are now required by law to keep a log of the seller’s name, address, a warranty that the seller did have the rights to sell it and the physical appearance of the seller. If the vendor plays dumb and purchases the stolen item anyway, there is a hefty consequence.

This is the reason that online selling has become a more and more frequent way for thieves to dump their stolen goods. If someone has stolen from you, report it to the local police (dial 911 and tell them it’s a non-emergency immediately, they will transfer you to the local sheriff’s office). Post the item(s) that were stolen and any information you have on the Vashonites Neighborhood Watch group. Watch the local Facebook groups and the Vashonites Classifieds website to see if your items are listed. There are many Facebook groups in neighboring areas for the Kitsap Peninsula, Tacoma and West Seattle. If they are, and you find them, contact the same police that you contacted when the item was stolen (the deputy should provide you with their contact info). The police will contact the seller and try to regain the item. While it’s not something the police will do, it is your duty to watch the online sales listings and report them.

If you’re on the flip side of the equation (the buyer), it is wise to be extra cautious when purchasing an item off of our classifieds or Facebook groups. Check the Vashonites Neighborhood Watch group on Facebook if anyone has posted stolen items that appear to be similar to the one you are interested in. If there are no reports of the item being stolen, and the deal seems too good to be true, it might be a good idea to inquire into missing item cases or ask around to see if anyone is missing something. If there’s only one photograph on the page, ask to see other photos of the item. A very obvious reason to suspect they don’t belong to the seller is if the item has a “property of…” engraving or sticker and the seller’s name is not the name.

Another way to tell if something has probably been stolen is to look at the packaging and the price you paid. Unless the item is something that is an non returnable gift (such as a clearance item at a store), there is no reason for there to be ten or twenty, and certainly not two dozen, of an item online in one posting. There is certainly no need for the item to have a discount of 75% if it’s brand new – maybe if it were in a really bad condition, yes. The packing, however, can be the biggest tell of stolen property. If it is food or medications, look at the expiration date. Sometimes the dates are marked over if the original date has passed. The expiration date could have been blurred out in the photos online.

If you buy something and it turns out to be stolen property, you will not be in trouble. However, that is provided that you did not know it was stolen or you did not have suspicions. If the item turns to be stolen, you will have to return it to the proper owner. However, those that stole the item will have to return your money. If the police come to you and say that you have purchased stolen property, tell them everything you know of the transaction.

More ways to be cautious:

  • Ask for a serial number if the item has one. Electronics often have a serial number, and the police report often contains this information. If the seller won’t give you the serial number, that’d be a red flag. Contact the police and give them what information you can.
  • Look at the advertisement. If there’s a somewhat overexcited tone or little information or description, red flag it. Another red flag is if the phone number is spelled out instead of given in digits. If it’s a gift card that is bought, a red flag would be an odd amount – not the standard amounts. Ask why the gift card has such an odd amount if you’re suspicious.

It is expected that the buyer will always do their homework, however, it’s much easier to determine if the object was stolen if the thief comes up with a pair of bolt cutters in their hands and offers the item (let’s say an impounded vehicle) for $50 than it is over the internet. It is expected that the buyer will report the stolen item to the police as soon as they discover it was a stolen item before it came into their possession, as the buyer could be charged with handling stolen goods.

The process is a little different for having a stolen car in your possession. Stolen vehicle sales is less likely to happen on the island, but just in case, the best thing to do before buying a car from an online dealer is to ask for the registration document. If there are spelling mistakes or the watermark is not present, this might be a stolen car. The name, address, and identifying numbers on the V5C should match the information from the seller and the car. If not, it’s probably safe to assume it was stolen. If the glass with numbers that would identify the car have been tampered with, get a history check. If everything matches up, iyou will still want to run a CARFAX report on the vehicle – the car might be using a different car’s identity to be sold.

While Vashon Island is small, and the community is very close, it’s always better to be cautious when dealing with sales online. This will prevent you from getting into trouble in the end.

If you have a story to share with us, please provide it in the comments below. As Islanders read them it’s good to know we’re not alone and to learn from one another.

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